Write the theme tune. Sing the theme tune.

I am big on the idea that an artist should create everything when it comes to producing a piece of art. I believe that an artist is at their best when they produce the whole piece. 

I regard frames as being an important part of a piece of art. It can really make or break the work. When done well, it can add to the story behind the painting.  

I make all of my frames. Initially, this was because professional framing shops are expensive and I usually have a ton of wood laying around the garage. 

More and more I’ve come to regard each frame as an important part of the work. Many of these frames have their own characteristics and add to the story.  

Recently, I’ve been visiting a local place known as the Amish Walmart. It’s kinda like a junk yard owned by an Amish family where they sell old farming equipment, tools and pretty much every type of wood you would ever want. They have stacks of old barn wood, fencing and so on. I love visiting this place. Each piece of wood has a story - marks from its original job, nails still sticking out and lots of authentic weathering. 

This weekend I spent time converting some of my old barn wood to box frames. These frames are super cool to make and I love that they sit flush to the wall. I’m going to leave the marks on them, warts and all, only a little sanding to remove any splinters. 

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~Dan

On the easel

Here’s what I’m currently working on. This piece features “The Driftless Cafe” in Viroqua. A superb cafe that specializes in farm to table food.  

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The inspiration for this piece comes from two places. Firstly, the building itself is an old stone building. It’s beautiful and down the street from the Fortney Hotel. Another building that has featured in a bunch of my pieces. The second source of inspiration comes from “Cafe terrace at night” by Vincent Van Gogh.

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I love this piece by Van Gogh. It makes me want to sit right there and have a drink and watch the world go by. The cafe is still there today and is a popular tourism destination! 

The Amish Walmart

Today, I spent much of the day in the garage getting things in order ready for an intense session of making frames. I managed to crank this frame out for “The Ride Home” which features an Amish buggy riding up the highway during a fall evening. The frame was made out of old barn wood from an Amish barn.

 

// Rewind back 24 hours // 

Yesterday, me and the wife headed to a local place that I believed to be just a local legend. A mythical place that only existed in lore. A place simply known as The Amish Walmart. 

This place is huge. An old shed with acres of land at the end of a dirt track. This place has tons of scrap wood, metal, old furnaces, tools, you name it! Its like everything  you’d ever need for anything on Pinterest. 

I found a stack of old barnwood. Real barn wood. Aged by Mother Nature, not checmically by Home Depot. The best thing? It was $1 per 6ft length!

Anyway, I grabbed what I could and started making frames for my art. I really like the frame to compliment the art in someway and I just love how this turned out. 

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Art Tip - How I "ground" my canvases

“Grounding” is the term given to the application of a “ground” color onto the canvas which will then be painted over. It’s the first step in the process of painting and should (almost) never be skipped.

Why should I ground my canvases?

There’s two reasons why you should ground your canvases before painting.

Psychology

Staring at a bright, white, blank canvas can be difficult for artists. It almost invokes artistic block. You can’t begin to see shapes, form or structure on a blank canvas. By grounding the canvas, you’ve already begun the process of making art. Psychologically, you’ve begun painting. The canvas is no longer a virgin. You may also begin to see shapes in the ground that could help if you’re struggling for inspiration.

Color control

Whatever color you put on the canvas as a ground will show through the brush strokes. Using a colored ground is a great way to add subtle warmth or subtle coolness to the overall painting. For example, I like to use a burnt sienna ground to warm up cold winter landscapes. You can also experiment with using other complimentary color combinations (Purple ground for an image that would be mostly yellow, red ground for something mostly green.)

How to ground your canvases

Ingredients for grounding a canvas:

  • 1 glass jar with a screw lid. A salsa jar works perfectly for this.

  • An old paint brush that still works but you don’t care about.

  • Kitchen roll/shop cloth/rags

  • Paint (I have a cheap 37ml tube of burnt sienna)

  • Turpentine/mineral spirits

  • Impasto medium (optional)

  • Screws, washers and other metal things

  • Canvas

  • A place to leave your canvases to let them dry

  • Gloves

Safety Tip - Wear gloves. If you’re working with oil paints, you need to have a box of disposable gloves in your studio. There’s stuff in the oil paints that you don’t want to absorb into your system (Cadmium for example) Also, if you’re working with turpentine, do it in a well ventilated area.

1 - Make sure the jar is clean and free of any bits of dried salsa. Sounds obvious, but one of my paintings does have a small fleck of dried tomato on it. (I’m sure in 100 years when art historians are looking through my work, using this blog as a reference, this is going to send them into a spin trying to figure out which one. <laughs maniacally>)

2 - Squeeze a bunch of paint into the jar. In my case, burnt sienna. Sometimes I like to reduce the intensity of the burnt sienna with some ultramarine blue. My jar is 15oz. I’m going to fill it to maybe around 5oz. So I use about half of a 1.25oz (37ml) tube of burnt sienna oil paint. I add the same amount of impasto medium (optional but it does stop the turpentine from thinning the paint too much) then I add 4-5oz of thinner (turpentine/mineral spirit).

3 - Using an old pencil, I stir the mixture around, working the thinner through the paint and impasto to get an even mix. (Side note: it’s never going to be even. You will always find chunks of paint. I go with the flow, this is all going to be painted over anyway.)

4 - Add the screws, washers and any other items that are metal and will help grind up this mixture. I make a jar of this and it lasts me a couple of months depending on the size and number of my paintings, so this will be sitting around for some time and the screws will help stir the mixture when I come to pick up the jar next time.

5 - Grab your paint brush, rag/kitchen roll/shop cloth, your canvas and now’s the time to put down some newspaper or something to cover whatever surface you’re going to work on. Oil paint will stain clothing, carpets, flooring, everything. And this mixture is watery, so it could drip without you knowing.

6 - Brush the mixture onto the front face of your canvas. There’s no need to cover every single area with the brush, we will work the mixture with the rag. Take this opportunity to be free with the canvas and paint. Imagine yourself as Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock - more Rothko than Pollock.

7 - Using the rag, wipe the paint mixture over the canvas and along the edges. The rag will absorb much of the mixture and help you get a thin stain over the canvas. Experiment with wiping varying amounts of paint off the canvas to achieve different intensities of color. It’s important to understand that all of this will be painted over, so there’s no need to be too concerned with what it looks like. You’re just looking to remove all traces of the pure white of the canvas and to start your painting.

Advice for artists: "Style" is a myth

In this post, I want to talk about the myth of “having a style” or a "certain look.”

For as long as I can remember, one of the limitations I unknowingly put on myself was that everything I would create should have a consistent style. It should be recognizable as being my work.

Over the last 15 years, I’ve spent my spare time looking into the works of many artists (more now than ever before) as well as photographers, designers and architects. One of the most inspiring elements of researching other artists is that, when you look at the body of work that they have created over their lifetime, you get a true sense of their style — consistent colors, brushstrokes, angles, framing, etc…  As a result, most people can identify a Picasso, or a Monet.

Although inspiring to see such a body of work, it placed so many limiting factors on me through my artistic development. As a result, I feel like I’ve been going round in circles, trying new styles, colors and mark making - never finding a “style” or a consistent body of work that suits me or feels natural.

This has been such a cause of frustration throughout my time as an artist. Since I began making art as a teenager I’ve done everything from cartoon characters, origami, painting, photography, screen printing, wood block printing, graphic design, 3D computer generated graphics, video work, oil painting, watercolor, pen and ink, and collage. I’ve dabbled in everything form the surreal to the mundane, mixed media to digital media.

All of this made me feel like a jack of all trades and a master of nothing. Until now.

I recently grabbed a book from the library. (Side note: If you don’t have a library card for your local library, stop reading this, go out and get one. Then spend a couple of hours in the art section… then come back to me.) The book I grabbed was a book on Picasso. It was published while he was still alive and provided an overview of his life, the key moments in his career and some insight into his life outside of art (he was quite the celebrity).

Here’s what I discovered. Picasso began painting around the age of 9, being taught by his father who was also a painter. This I already knew. Picasso developed Cubism along with Georges Braque. This I also knew. But Picasso the child did not paint in the cubist style. (Sounds obvious but it's enlightening in a way) Picasso, at age 15, was painting like one of the old masters. He was a classically trained artists creating works that could be mistaken for El Greco, Delacroix or Raphael. 

Science and Charity

 

 

 

 

Picasso - 1987

So what? Well, here’s my epiphany moment and I want to share it with you so you don’t waste years of your life limiting yourself to a “style” because “that’s what you’re known for.” Picasso, arguably the greatest artist of the 20th century, had many styles over his 70 year career and worked in many mediums including sculpture, ceramics, printing even stage design! What he's known for and the work he produced are not necessarily the same. He ventured across mediums and approaches.

Bottom Line: Don’t strangle your creativity and limit yourself to a “style” in the hopes of presenting your work with some sense of consistency. Do what you feel, work from the heart, the consistency is that it all came from you.